St.Mildred's Church, Tenterden, Kent.


an account by Hugh Ward

 Horatia Nelson, the adored daughter of Horatio Viscount Nelson, Vice-Admiral of the White, and Lady Emma Hamilton, was born on  29/30 January 1801.  Two centuries after her birth new biographies with substantial sections about Horatia are still being published.  Preparations are already in hand for national commemorations in 2005 of our greatest naval hero and we should remind ourselves of the connections between Nelson’s descendants, St Mildred’s Church and Tenterden.

A fearful nation

 During Horatia’s infant years the people of Britain were in a state of acute anxiety, in Kent and Sussex probably more than elsewhere.  In 1803 over 130,000 French soldiers and 22,000 landing craft were known to be in the vicinity of Boulogne preparing to invade England.  Medals commemorating the occupation of London had been ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Parliament’s response to the crisis was to authorize the rapid construction of a line of  defences for the Army  along the Channel coastline commencing in the autumn of 1804 with The Royal Military Canal from Hythe to Cliff End and in addition seventy-four Martello Towers.  All these fortifications were soon redundant, however, as on October 21st 1805 the fleet commanded by Admiral Nelson destroyed Napoleon’s  French and Spanish warships at the Battle of Trafalgar.  Although the Napoleonic wars continued for another ten years Nelson’s victory immediately lifted from England and her colonies the threat of invasion by the French army and over at least the next hundred years enabled the British navy to dominate the seas.

The wife of an Anglican clergyman

 Horatia married Revd Philip Ward just after her 21st birthday on 19 February 1822 at Burnham Westgate Church near her father’s home village in north Norfolk.  Philip Ward had gone to Burnham as curate, a third generation Norfolk Anglican clergyman   About six years older than Horatia, he was a scholarly man and poet who went on to educate his own sons before they went to university or into a profession.  At their marriage they were described as an intelligent and handsome couple.  The author of  the standard and much-praised biography of Horatia, Winifred Gerin, stated “the one certain good that befell her was her marriage”.  Their first child was christened on Horatia’s 22nd birthday and named Horace.  Five more children were born in Norfolk.  Her husband was offered the living at Stanhoe in Norfolk with an improved income from tithes and glebe lands.  Quite soon afterwards he moved to Bircham Newton where he held the living for five years.

The move to Tenterden

 About 1830,  twenty-nine years old, with several children and in need of a higher income, Mrs Horatia Nelson Ward agreed to leave family and friends in north Norfolk for Kent, part of England to which she was a complete stranger, as the wife of  the Vicar of Tenterden.  The old vicarage, however, was in such a state of dilapidation that for about 18 months they lived at ”The Pebbles”, now 53 & 55 High Street and occupied by the library, an estate agent and Kent Messenger offices.  The cost of repairs to the old vicarage became an additional burden to the family and Revd Ward could not afford a curate.

 Although Philip is sometimes thought of as a Victorian vicar his first seven years in Tenterden coincided approximately with the reign of King William IV.  Their  ten children - seven boys and three girls - were all born before the accession of Queen Victoria.

Horatia’s family and St Mildred’s Church memorabilia

 Four children were born in Tenterden, Edmund Nelson (1831), Horatia (1832), Philip (1834) and Caroline Mary (1836).  Revd Philip Ward and  three of these children, Caroline (1836-1859),  Edmund (six months-died 1832) and their youngest son, Philip, a lieutenant in the 25th Bengal Native Light Infantry (1834-1865), are commemorated by a memorial plaque on the south wall near the altar.  Philip Ward’s ministry here extended for over 28 years.  He died suddenly on 16th January 1859,  a fortnight before Horatia’s 58th birthday.

 The remaining Tenterden-born child,  their second daughter, also called Horatia, had descendants with links to the town for over 140 years. Horatia Ward,  recovered from cholera at the age of  13. She became an exceptionally beautiful young woman, and married a solicitor from Lincoln’s Inn, William Johnson, at Tenterden in 1858.  He was a colleague and friend of  her elder brother Nelson Ward, the fourth son.  Both were cricket enthusiasts who came to Tenterden at weekends during the season.

 Horatia and William Johnson’s granddaughter, Miss Marjorie Horatia Johnson, was very closely associated with St Mildred’s.  She  presented her great-grandmother Horatia's embroidery of the 19th century High Street and church, mounted in a picture frame, to the church, and this  is now well-known as one of its treasures.  Winifred Gerin acknowledged that Miss Johnson was the source of  information about the Tenterden family connections.  Her childhood was spent locally before she moved to Maidstone as a governess. Another publication about the history of the town, by Hugh Roberts, refers to Miss Johnson’s striking resemblance to portraits of  the Admiral.  Personal links with the town actually continued until 1974 when Miss Johnson, who latterly lived at 10 Craythorne, the great-great-granddaughter of Admiral Nelson, after suffering a stroke, died at Kench Hill Nursing Home aged  84 years.

 For many years the next generation of the Nelson-Ward family made annual visits to Tenterden staying at a house in the High Street. . A wall plaque including the name of  Miss Weston (1814-1892), an old friend of Horatia, can be seen above the War Memorial on the north side of the church.  Her long friendship is testified by the fact that she was a witness to Horatia’s will ten years after she  left Tenterden

 Revd. Philip Ward is buried with two of his children, Caroline Mary and Edmund Nelson, in a family “oven” vault  in St Mildred’s churchyard directly east of the Lady Chapel window.  The vault must have been prepared shortly after Horatia’s family came to the town as the keystone, beneath the name “Ward”, states “1832”, the year in which their seventh child, Edmund, died aged 6 months.

 Philip Ward was so revered by his Tenterden parishioners that a stained glass window was commissioned in his memory in what was once known as the Side Chapel.  Taste changed in the twentieth century.  At the instigation of the Bishop of Dover the window was removed on the grounds that it included an image of the Devil being  rebuked by Jesus which “suggested the grotesque or terrific in the minds of children”.  In August 1931 a new east window depicting the Virgin and Child was dedicated by the Bishop along with the refurbished chapel, known now as the Lady Chapel.  Beneath the east window of the chapel extending across its full width is a brass plate which states
The original window, with the image of the Devil omitted was installed in a Church elsewhere.

 Of some historical interest are memorabilia displayed in a picture frame presented to the church in 1928 by  Revd. Hugh H E Nelson-Ward, grandson of Horatia and son of  the Ward’s eldest child, Horace.  On the right is a  photographic print labelled “Rev. Philip Ward, MA Trinity College, Oxford, Vicar of Tenterden 10th August 1830 until his death on 16th January 1859 aged 63 years”.  Slightly confusing is a small memorial card, also displayed, which gives his age as 64 years. The picture is of general interest apart from the Nelson connection as it must be one of the oldest surviving photographic prints from the mid-nineteenth century.  The pioneering “Daguerreotype” system was established only  20 years previously.  Church archives also contain an interesting “silhouette” of Philip Ward, a good example of miniature portraits formed by paper cut-outs which were popular in the century before the invention of photography.

 On the left of the frame is a photographic print of Horatia.  This is one of  many photographs to be found in books and museums.  The caption refers to her husband and states (incorrectly) that she had eight children  Their home was a predecessor of the present vicarage and the centrepiece of the 1928 artefact is a sketch entitled The Old Vicarage - Tenterden - 1834.  Done by Mr Meadows-White brother of Frances, Lady Waldegrave whilst staying at the Vicarage with Rev. Philip Ward and Mrs Ward.  The reference to Lady Waldegrave is significant as she was a childhood friend of Horatia and patron of the benefice of Radstock granted to Horatia’s eldest son in 1853, Horace, the father of the donor of the memorabilia, Revd Hugh Ward.

Horatia’s Childhood

 Before coming to Tenterden Horatia’s life was quite remarkable. Her early childhood, for about four and a half years, was spent with her doting father and mother
at Merton, her parent’s home, about 9 miles south-west of central London. This was later sold by Lady Hamilton to pay off her debts. The house was demolished in 1846.  After Trafalgar Horatia was left £4000 in the Admiral’s will.  She enjoyed  periods of  affluence but in later childhood experienced times of  humiliation and poverty  Despite the circumstances of her birth she was legally known as Horatia Nelson Nelson.

 Her biographers describe her as tall, intelligent, surprisingly well read, a natural linguist (her mother taught her French. Italian and German), musical,  an accomplished needlewoman and animal-lover.  She had a lively temperament and was capable of speaking her mind. During the last years of the reign of  George III and the early Regency period, her formative years, she mixed socially with the highest echelons of society. Lady Hamilton never revealed that she was Horatia’s mother but they continued to live together for over 9 years after Trafalgar.  Their circumstances deteriorated markedly, including a spell in a debtors prison. When Emma died in Calais in January 1815 aged fifty Horatia and the British Consul made the funeral arrangements.  On her 14th birthday Horatia was smuggled across the Channel in disguise to be met at Dover by Nelson’s brother in law.   She was cherished by Nelson’s sisters’ families.

Financial problems - Nelson’s wishes ignored

 Her father died an immensely popular national hero but contrary to his wishes the government ignored Nelson’s only lineal descendent, Horatia. On the morning of Trafalgar Nelson wrote, and had witnessed, an appeal to king and country which left his daughter “to the beneficence of my country “.  Instead the nation’s gratitude was focused on his elder brother Revd Dr William Nelson (1757-1835), who was granted an earldom, a large house -  Trafalgar House, Downton in Wiltshire built in 1733 -  and furniture, and, not least,  a large annuity.  Dr Nelson was a Canon of Canterbury Cathedral and had the authority to nominate his niece’s husband, Revd. Philip Ward, as the Vicar of Tenterden

 Historians tend to concentrate on her husband’s life in the Tenterden years With a large and growing family Philip Ward’s financial resources were quite limited.  But almost immediately he was obliged by Revd Dr Nelson to embark on litigation with his parishioners to alter the payment of tithes which were an important part of  his income.  Horatia had a extremely strong and lively personality and she rather than her husband took a major part in legal negotiations necessitating frequent journeys          by stage coach from The Woolpack Inn to London    The complex and lengthy law-suit lasted for 10 years and was only settled in 1842.  He lost the suit and  despite the wealth of Dr William Nelson, Philip was compelled to find about £6000 in costs.  The effect was to undermine his health and her energy.

A vicar’s wife and national public figure

 Although Horatia accepted that she was actually Nelson’s daughter she and her family persisted in believing Lady Hamilton’s denial that she was her mother and claim that she was her guardian.  Because of her origins as the only child of a popular national hero life as a vicar’s wife at times must have exceptionally difficult.  Events and public controversy acted as constant reminders to her, her family and Tenterden parishioners.  Her sons all had very successful careers but it should not be forgotten that in addition to her public life Horatia educated her three daughters and personally nursed the children through many illnesses.

 Ten years after her arrival in Tenterden a series of events revived national acclaim for her father.  In 1843 Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column were created to commemorate the victory. The first biography actually appeared as early as 1806.  In her time in Tenterden at least six  books of Nelson’s public and private life, including his letters to Lady Hamilton, were published and highly publicised. Some were marred by inaccuracies and exaggeration. To ensure greater accuracy Horatia closely collaborated with Sir Nicholas Harris in preparing Nelson’s letters which were published in 7 volumes between 1844 and 1846.  In the same period she took an important part in difficult negotiations to buy Nelson’s uniform coat and waistcoat.  Eventually they were purchased by The Prince Consort for Greenwich Hospital in 1845 and are now in The National Maritime Museum.

 Growing awareness of the injustice suffered by Horatia after her father’s death resulted in the formation of an appeal committee of friends and former naval colleagues of Nelson involving many visits by Horatia to London to meet the committee who sent a deputation to the Prime Minister.  The national appeal was launched in 1850.  Donations were sparse and when  the appeal closed in 1854 only £1457 had been raised. Horatia insisted that this should be divided between her three sons in the  military services - Marmaduke a Surgeon in the Royal Navy, William, a Major in the Indian Army and Philip a  Lieutenant in the Indian Infantry. In the same year Queen Victoria agreed an allocation of public funds ensuring annual pensions of £100 each to each of the Ward daughters.

 The eldest son, Horace (1822-1888) gained a degree at The University of Cambridge and returned to Tenterden in 1847 as Philip Ward’s curate, a position he held for 6 years.  Their fourth son, Nelson Ward, (1828-1917) was articled for five years to a Tenterden solicitor.  Afterwards he became Registrar in the Court of Chancery.  Clearly the mainstay of Horatia’s family he resided at West Lodge, Pinner in Middlesex.

 When Philip died she not only lost her  husband  but had to move out of their home of nearly 30 years - the Vicarage - and leave her local friends.  For twenty two years she lived  near her son Nelson at Elmdene, Pinner and later at Beaufort Villas, Woodridings.  She died on 6th March 1881 aged 80 years and was buried in the Old Cemetery, Paines Lane, Pinner.

Horatia’s personal qualities   . .  .

 How should the connections between Nelson’s descendants and Tenterden be remembered?  Many may be surprised and interested in the number of  memorials and tangible memorabilia of Revd Ward’s time as the Vicar.  However there are no contemporary memorials in St Mildred’s to his wife, Nelson’s daughter.  Perhaps it is not insignificant that although her descendants kept in touch with the town until 75 years ago Horatia refused to return to Tenterden.

 At this time perhaps the most appropriate memorial would be to emphasise Horatia’s remarkable personal qualities.  Contemporary accounts record her unaffected conduct and  breadth of sympathy with parishioners.  Referring to her naval and clerical background one describes her as a courageous and capable woman, with a strong personality.  She lost her devoted father before her fifth birthday.  She must have been constantly reminded of his enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte who lived until she was twenty.  Although she never accepted that Lady Hamilton was her mother nevertheless she was incredibly loyal to her.  She was still only thirteen years old when Lady Hamilton died.  Proof of  her parentage came only after Horatia’s death.  Six of her ten children died during her lifetime, the youngest daughter, Caroline, only a few weeks after Philip.

 She was a public figure, ready to take initiatives on behalf of her husband, taking a major role in legal negotiations in London over Tenterden tithes.  Despite periods of financial difficulty she retained her dignity and never sought public sympathy.  At times she actively campaigned for the return and appropriate disposal of  Nelson’s personal  possessions.  She closely participated in the preparations for publication of her father’s letters.  Her main biographer concluded that she was, in our modern judgement, an emancipated woman.
I acknowledge with gratitude the assistance of Marek Barden who has a detailed knowledge of  St Mildred’s Church archives and also Mrs Phyl Nailor who knew Miss Johnson well and shared her recollections.  There is no connection other than coincidence of names between the author of this article and Nelson’s descendants

Published Sources

Winifred Gerin  Horatia Nelson (1970)
  Oxford University Press

Tom Pocock     Nelson’s Women  (1999)
  Andre Deutsch
    (Ch 10 Horatia Ch 11 Mrs Nelson Ward)

Hugh Roberts    Tenterden: the first thousand years (1995)
  Wilton 65

March 2003

Some helpful links -

The Nelson Society

Information about Nelson

Some other Nelson links

St.Mildred's Home Page

This page modified by Nick Hudd 23rd September 2005